Newark high school students will receive a monthly bus pass instead of a daily bus ticket starting in January 2023 as part of a trial run program with NJ Transit, district officials said during November’s board of education meeting.
The new pilot program, running from January until the end of June, will provide all high school students with a monthly bus pass to use outside of school, as well as for transportation to and from school. Currently, the district provides single-use bus tickets to cover trips to and from school for students who live a certain distance from campus.
“I’m pretty excited about that bus pass,” said board president Dawn Hayes during last week’s board meeting. “I know as a mom of two high school students, that’s going to come in handy.”
Under New Jersey law, the district is required to provide transportation to and from school for elementary school students who live more than 2 miles from their public school and for high school students who live more than 2.5 miles from their school. Like other cities, Newark relies on public transportation systems such as NJ Transit to take students to school.
The new initiative will launch on Jan. 3, 2023 for eligible high school students. They will receive a physical or electronic monthly bus card consistent with the zone in which they currently travel to and from school, board members said. District officials will monitor the trial run and assess the program at the end of June. The exact cost of the new program, and any savings to the district, are unclear.
During their meeting last Tuesday, school board members celebrated the upcoming launch of the program, which is the result of years of negotiations between Newark Public Schools and NJ Transit to find an alternative to the current system of single-use tickets. Details about the program were first announced in February 2020 when district officials said they would roll out the monthly bus pass initiative for students at six schools. At that time, the bus passes would not have covered evening or weekend trips but the program was put on pause due to the pandemic.
“I don’t know if people know the magnitude of the bus passes,” said board member Flohisha Johnson-Hill during the meeting last week. “It’s really awesome that kids are going to be able to use it on the weekend for travel, to go to work, or different activities after school.”
District spokesperson Nancy Deering did not respond to a request for comment about the program.
More than 14,000 Newark students were eligible for bus tickets in October and another 4,700 students were transported via a school vehicle, according to committee reports. Before the new program, eligible students received single-use bus tickets on a monthly basis from their school but that caused a strain on students, who are responsible for keeping track of their tickets. Students with disabilities are provided transportation through school buses regardless of their home address, according to the office of special education.
“I’m really excited for this,” board member A’dorian Murray-Thomas said at the meeting.
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In August, Newark Superintendent Roger León and the board of education spent just over $7 million on a contract with 20 transportation companies to service 126 routes to schools. During the November board meeting, the board approved a more than $6 million contract with 22 transportation companies to service 101 routes, with a 10% route modification allowance, for the 2023-24 school year.
Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at firstname.lastname@example.org.